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Archive for Wednesday, September 10, 1997

ALLEN RIGHT TO STICK BY JOHNER

September 10, 1997

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Kansas University football coach Terry Allen just lost a few popularity points, but darned if he didn't do the right thing in keeping Matt Johner as his starting quarterback.

Oh, I know he'll get flamed on the sports talk shows and the Internet chat rooms and around the water coolers this morning, the day after he declared KU's quarterback controversy a dead issue by announcing he'd stick with Johner as the starter.

It doesn't figure to be a popular move, but it was the correct one.

Allen did make a major concession in all but saying KU would play a two-quarterback rotation, with Johner making the start and sophomore Zac Wegner getting his share of snaps.

The controversy comes in because Wegner has better numbers. Though he played just a quarter in KU's opener and just under a half in Kansas' 17-10 victory over Texas Christian last Saturday, Wegner has completed 83.3 percent of his passes for a glossy 225.6 efficiency rating. Johner has completed 48.4 percent and rates 79.55 efficiency points.

Wegner ranks as the Big 12's third-best quarterback. Leader Michael Bishop of Kansas State rates 274.2 points. Johner isn't among the top 12 QBs in the league.

So, naturally, Wegner's the better QB, right?

Not so fast, says Allen.

"I talked about this before the season," Allen said. "There's too much criticism cast on the quarterback position. I said we'd struggle this year on offense. Sometimes the quarterback gets too much credit and too much criticism."

Take Wegner's touchdown toss, for example, when Termaine Fulton slipped behind TCU's secondary, settled under a bomb and went 60 yards for the TD.

All Wegner, right?

"That wasn't so much what we did with our quarterback situation," Allen said, "as the plays we ran in the second half."

Believe me, I've heard all the theories for starting Wegner over Johner on Saturday: the team responded to Wegner, the fans responded to Wegner, Wegner throws a better ball, Wegner's the quarterback of the future.

And all have their merit.

But so does Allen's two-quarterback rotation. There's something to be said for a clear-cut No. 1, but Allen's plan taps the best in both quarterbacks.

Johner might not be much of a big-play guy, but he hasn't turned it over yet this season. Wegner has. Johner doesn't go into a funk in the face of adversity; Wegner's an unknown in that area. Johner doesn't get the yips thinking about making his first collegiate start; Wegner might.

Thus Johner gets to start, and Wegner, who has played in all of two college games, gets to play without all the pressure heaped on the starter.

Wegner gets groomed to be the quarterback of the future, rather than being subjected to an all-out trial by fire, and next year he comes in with experience, confidence and potentially two years of starts ahead of him.

There's no question that Wegner can sling the pig. Now he's being brought along so he can continue to do so well into the future.

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